While there have been R-rated superhero films before, none of them have been released with the level of fanfare as the new Fox release, Deadpool. With one of the most fun marketing campaigns in recent memory, the character has pushed himself into a level of pop iconography even before his proper adaptation has even been released. Even if a lot of that enthusiasm for the film release has been on the whole angle of “we are finally gonna get it right for the fans,” which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, by any means, but it does risk the film being nothing but fanservice. It wouldn’t be a surprise since it was the “leaked” test footage that was very well-received by fans, thus putting the film production on full throttle. A couple years later and here we are with the release of the supposedly “proper” Deadpool film.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) takes part in an experiment with a private company to help cure his cancer, so he can happily live with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). However, the experimenters had more sinister intentions in mind and after some craziness goes down, Wilson finds himself with the ability to heal, but also his face completely and utterly horrifying. He adopts the alter-ego of Deadpool, a “bad guy you get to take out even badder guys,” and he goes on a mission on revenge to find Ajax (Ed Skrein), the man behind the experiment, and things get personal when Ajax kidnaps Vanessa as a way to get to Wilson.
Deadpool is a fascinating anomaly in terms of how major studio productions tend to work and the release is a testament to the outcry of fans wanting their character pulled off right. Not only is a major studio funding and distributing an R-rated comic book film, it’s a comic book film centered around a character known for being self-aware and making meta-commentary. It’s strange to see a movie like this within the context of a studio system and it makes me really happy that a film like this even exists. If only the film itself was a just a bit better.
I want to first say that the film is not bad by any means, it’s good, solid fun. However, I would be outright lying if I felt that the film could have been better and gone further in many ways. For one thing, the film is very oddly structured. It is essentially two action set pieces bookmarking a flashback narrative. Yes, there are only two action set pieces in the entire film, and unfortunately, the best one is the one we’ve seen already in the test footage and literally all the trailers leading up to the release, the bridge sequence. Sure, there are a few small moments within them that we haven’t seen, but there’s enough footage out there to put together a 80-90% completed version of the sequence. The other sequence at the end is far less impressive and more forgettable. Between the two, we get the revenge journey for Deadpool and a flashback sequence to give us the events prior to Wilson becoming Deadpool. It’s hard to really describe, but the whole middle of the film felt off, as if I was watching a severely edited version or perhaps the story isn’t as engaging as it wants to be. It could even be that the flashbacks hold very little relevance to the scenes coming before and after. I’m struggling to even remember some of the specifics of that entire portion.
I have never really been much of a fan of the superhero films released by Fox. I always found the X-Men films, even at their best, to be nothing more than just passable. Having seen Deadpool, the fact that it at least has some semblance of style and personality to it puts it far above the other Fox releases. But even the film disappoints a bit in this area. When it starts off with the bridge sequence, it’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s full of energy, the one-liners are coming a mile a minute and the action is equal parts brutal and goofy. Everything after that sequence though? Not a whole lot, to be frank. The film loses a bit of momentum as it goes along, the jokes begin to divulge into standard, improv-heavy, line-o-rama nonsense, the action isn’t as inventive anymore and the plotting slogs along a dull revenge narrative that doesn’t make you feel like much is at stake despite the efforts of having a love story element that is supposed to serve as the film’s core. While the chemistry between Reynolds and Baccarin is great and there are a number of sweet moments, when it came time for us to really care about them and get emotionally involved in the revenge/save the girlfriend plot, it wasn’t really connecting. I can’t say for sure if this is because the attempts at sincerity is undercut by lowbrow humor, or if there just wasn’t enough meat to the story and characters to get us invested.
What didn’t help was that the story itself was far more safer and standard than I would have liked. For a character that is meant to be so self-aware, I’m shocked he never mentions the fact that he is taking part in the most generic possible plot for a superhero origin story. And that leads to my biggest disappointment, (and this will sound strange) the lack of any real edge or cleverness. I get that most of Deadpool’s jokes often go along the lines of “throwing everything to the wall and see what sticks” mode, and that’s fine, but I would prefer most of the jokes to hit rather than miss. For all the fuss about Deadpool getting an R-rating, I was surprised at how fairly tame the movie is. I’ll admit, I speak from someone who has been watching R-rated movies since I was young, and I’ve seen some extreme stuff, so there’s a chance I was simply setting myself up for disappointment. But when it came to the violence in Deadpool, I was hoping for more than just the occasional “blink or you’ll miss” spurts of CGI blood and gore. With all the talks of how Deadpool needs to be rated R, I was thinking guts spilling out, heads being smashed to a pulp, people getting ripped to shreds, you know, something similar to the likes of Kill Bill. I would have settled for some of the inventive camera work and fun gunplay of the opening sequence, but the rest of the film was standard shoot-em-up fare. And then there’s the whole self-aware, fourth wall breaking stuff, which I was also looking forward to seeing since I’m a huge sucker for that. Again, I found myself feeling like the film was holding back. The meta moments in Deadpool are the kind of stuff Mel Brook would be able to do in his sleep. The opening credits promised a film that simply had no rules, complete and utter anarchy, yet once the film begins, the insanity that I was hoping for simply wasn’t there. As weird as it sounds, I felt like the film was holding itself back.
This leads to a thing that’s been bugging me for a while, and Deadpool and The Force Awakens have opened my eyes on this problem. Deadpool is one of those films that had a lot of baggage going into it. The character is very popular among comic readers, the character was poorly realized in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a truer adaptation was promised and ultimately stuck in developmental hell, a piece of footage showed that it was giving the fans exactly what they want, and thus the film is released and people are eating it up without looking at some of the problems. The thing that bugs me is when I can see potential and genuine brilliance in a film, but it falls short because it is only fixated on getting on the good side of fans and giving them lip service. The Force Awakens did this by redoing familiar plot points and arcs from the Original Trilogy as a way to redeem the franchise after the disappointing prequels (and granted, I do love the movie, but the reasons for it got nothing to do with it’s garbage plot), and now Deadpool is doing it, and I’m tired of films promising better movies instead of simply delivering the best they possibly can right now. I don’t want a standard origin story with only the bare minimum effort placed on style and aesthetic ambition with the promise of better installments to come, I want the insane, balls-to-the-wall, “I can’t believe this movie exists” version of Deadpool right now.
This sounds harsh, but it’s only because I can see the potential in something really special. It’s a good movie, with elements that could have been part of a great movie. It’s like the filmmakers were so focused on getting everything right for the fans that they decided to not risk going too far and to play it safe so that it delivers what the fans want and nothing more. It might be asking for too much, but I’d rather see a film try hard and fail than a film that doesn’t try hard and mildly succeed. But even for all the problems I have, the cast is still really good, Reynolds continues to be a stellar screen presence and he genuinely acts his heart out for this, and Baccarin adds so much personality and likability to a role that is the closest to interesting, subversive and weirdly progressive that this film gets to. And the film knows to keep things fairly short, sitting at an hour and 48 minutes for its running time. I like how even the other characters acknowledge that Deadpool is kind of annoying when you spend too much time with him and there are a few meta gags that work in spades. There is a lot to like, mostly thanks to the filmmakers’ passion for the material and Ryan Reynolds being perfect for the role and embracing it wholeheartedly. However, as a film, it lacks consistency in the laughs, the meta commentary isn’t as smart or clever (especially compared to the new gold standard, the Jump Street movies), the action is only sporadically interesting and as crazy as promised. It’s still a fun and light enough sit that you most likely be able to look over the problems, and the moments that work do make it a delightful and different experience compared to most other comic book superhero films out today. Oh, and one last thing that annoyed me, I found out that I was correct in assuming that Karan Soni, who played the Indian cab driver, Dopinder, was faking his exaggerated accent. C’mon people, we can’t do this in a post Master of None world! 65 / 100